Introducing a new cat to your household 


At the risk of stating the obvious, the first thing you must do is transport your cat home safely. That means in a cat carrier. If you’re adopting from a shelter or other organization, they will probably place your new cat in the carrier for you when you leave, and may have cardboard ones you can buy if you haven’t brought your own. You may as well bring a regular cat carrier; if you don’t have one yet, go ahead and get one—you’re going to need it as soon as your cat’s next vet visit comes up.


Always keep in mind that cats are cats—they aren’t people or even dogs. They don’t understand what’s happening. A cat’s instinct is to go home, and until your home becomes your cat’s home, he’s going to feel out of his element.


Especially if it’s an adult cat, adapting to new surroundings takes time. Depending on where you get your cat from, try to find out his history—even a short-term history, such as how he got along with others at the shelter (or wherever). You’ll want to know how he is with children, dogs, other cats, kittens, or none of the above; if he’s been a lap cat, or if he’s been a stray or an outdoor kitty, in which case adapting to indoors will be a challenge in itself. For obvious reasons, all this information should factor into your choice of cat in the first place.


The temperaments and histories of the pets you already have are important to consider too. If you have an older cat who’s used to being an “only cat,” introducing a new cat will be an adjustment for the older cat as well as the new one. A well-established “ruler of the roost” kitty may have quite a tough time accepting an addition to her domain. Kittens are more adaptable, yet if your new cat is young, he may want to “play” with the older kitty, which could be interpreted as aggression.


So here’s a list of the basic factors to consider:


·    Age: older cats will take more time and effort to adjust, and that goes for both the resident cat and the new cat. Kittens are more adaptable, but may be too eager to play with an older cat. (Hint: get two kittens at once—they’ll play with each other.)


·    Gender: some people believe two cats of opposite gender will get along better because they’re not competing for alpha male or alpha female role. Speaking from personal experience, most of the strongest friendships I’ve seen between cats have been two cats of the same gender; however, I haven’t had a large enough study sample to do a meaningful scientific experiment. It’s probably more a matter of individual personality.


·    Personality: some cats are simply more social while others are shy. Work with what you have; don’t expect a cat to behave in a way that’s inconsistent with his personality.


·    Background: a cat that’s been a stray or a barn cat will have a more difficult adjustment. This cat may have never seen a litterbox before, may be used to competing for food, may have been separated from his mom at an early age, and may be determined to find a way to return to the great outdoors.


·    Total number of cats, both new and established: adopting two at once (either littermates or any two cats who already know each other) will make the adjustment more comfortable for the new cats. It will also make adding future cats easier. This is an especially good plan if the cat(s) will be alone during much of the day. At the same time, however, any cats you already have may feel even more threatened; therefore, it’s even more important to monitor the adjustment period carefully. Be aware that the social dynamic changes every time you add a cat—and every time you lose one as well. Sometimes the change is temporary, sometimes not.


Remember that cats and dogs have a far stronger sense of smell than we do, and they rely on it far more. So your home will smell strange to your new cat, and your new cat will smell strange to your resident pets. A good strategy is to bring an item from home, such as a blanket or article of clothing, that smells like your existing pet, and show it to your new pet before you bring him home. If you have the opportunity, do the reverse as well: take the item home to your old pet with the new cat’s scent on it. This will give them a preliminary introduction to each other.


When you bring the new kitty home, place him in his own room at first, with food, water, litterbox, and bedding. Be prepared for the possibility that this may not work—some cats are very social and will meow relentlessly until they’re allowed to join the rest of the family. If this turns out to be the case, don’t insist; just supervise while your new cat explores and meets your other pets.


At the other end of the spectrum, your new kitty may disappear under the bed or into the closet for days, venturing out only to eat, drink, and use the litterbox. Don’t force this issue either. Chasing, dragging, or scaring him out will only result in a scared cat. Peek in, talk to him gently, offer him toys and treats—let him know you’re on his team. He will come out when he feels safe, period.


A note about litterboxes: it’s critically important to make sure litterbox habits get off to a good start. Litterbox problems (i.e., cats failing to use it) are among the most common reasons people give up their cats. Make sure your new cat has his own litterbox for a while. This should be a new box in a new location that the other cats are not already used to. I’ve heard varying formulas for figuring the number of litterboxes: the number of cats; number of cats plus one; number of cats times one and a half; and so on. I’m not going to recommend a particular formula but will stress that keeping the litterboxes clean is of paramount importance. Read more about it at litter and litterboxes and litterbox problems.


Besides the litterbox, make sure the new kitty has his own food, water, and sleeping place too. After a while, they’ll probably share everything, but at first, giving them each their own space will make everyone more comfortable.


Introducing cats to dogs is more complicated. Dogs are far more capable of hurting or killing a cat, even if they’re only playing. A dog “worrying” or shaking a cat can break his neck, killing him instantly or leaving him paralyzed so that you will need to have him put to sleep. A quadriplegic cat would be very challenging to care for, sorry to say.


If you’ve never had cats and dogs together before, here are a few more things to know:


·    One thing that’s nearly irresistible to dogs is cat food. Do not let your dog eat cat food. Aside from the fact that your cat may go hungry, the fat and protein content in cat food is too high for dogs and can cause liver and kidney problems. So keep the cats’ dishes where dogs cannot reach, and keep the bag of cat food locked away too. (Same goes for hiding the dog food. If your cat is seen checking it out, the dog may snap at the cat to defend his food.)


·    Another thing that’s nearly irresistible to dogs is cat poop. Most dogs will happily forage in the litterbox, and while it is probably not harmful to the dog, it is a) very distasteful to humans (if you thought dog breath was bad before…), and b) a violation of the cats’ territory. Do not try any deterrents or booby trap methods to prevent this—you’ll probably just prevent your cat from using the box. Instead, put the litterbox in a place where dogs can’t reach: behind a baby gate, or in a laundry room, bathroom, closet, or even a large, tall cardboard box—any of those, with a kitty door into it. (Note: some cats will refuse to use those covered litterboxes.)


·    Do not punish your dog for harassing a cat. It will not work and may make things worse. Much of what’s involved in integrating dogs and cats is a dog obedience issue, so I defer to experts in this area. Read the articles below, and if necessary, get in touch with an obedience trainer or an animal communicator (see animal communicators).


·         Some dogs will never accept a cat. If you feel your cat is truly in danger, seriously consider finding a new home for one or the other, and in the meantime, keep them separated.



·         While a dog is far more capable of hurting or killing a cat than vice-versa, cats will scratch quite viciously to defend themselves, and if this happens, your dog’s eyes are vulnerable to serious damage.


For more information specifically about introducing cats to dogs:


And for more information on what to expect of kids with pets, please read kids' responsibility.


Whatever you do, remember that it takes a while (days or weeks) for a cat to become comfortable in his new home. Returning him to the shelter (or wherever) may be necessary, but this is usually done too hastily. And it only makes life more difficult for the cat, as he repeatedly transitions from one new home to another. Give the cat a chance. Just follow the suggestions above, and everything will probably work out fine.


©Lisa J. Lehr